They go where they are sent and do what is necessary, so the rest of us don’t have to. That’s the idea, anyway. Sometimes they get sent places they shouldn’t be and told to do things that shouldn’t be done, but that’s not their call. They have promised to be a shield, to stand between us and the dark places. It’s our job to know where the dark places are and how much a threat they pose.
It’s our duty to use them wisely so that their honor is our honor. When it goes well, they return, those that do, and they are admired and we take a collective pride in the job, the sacrifice, the honor which their actions transfer to us.
Sometimes we get it wrong and they come back having broken things and having been broken.
We should never blame them or repudiate them or make them feel they are somehow responsible for our lack of judgment. When they come back from a bad job, one that was poorly chosen and badly planned, the only thing we need to remember is that any shame is entirely on us. They get to keep their honor.
I am not a sentimentalist about war. The world is filled with ugliness and it must be dealt with. Doing so is not noble work, but those who willing go to do it are themselves noble for the sacrifice. It’s work no one should have to do. It is damaging. It changes people.
I am not a romantic about military service. It is something that ought not to be needful.
I am a realist. No one should be made to suffer from someone else’s inability to sustain sentiment or the illusions of romantic mythologizing.
Ugliness and brutality are like cancers and they have to be treated. Sometimes those who go in to do the surgery get infected with it. That can’t be helped. They deserve our support and our help. They deserve not to be cast aside or forgotten because we are ashamed or embarrassed. We sent them and if it was to the wrong place for the wrong reason, we should not treat them as if they had the responsibility to say no to us. They volunteered to do this job, to go where we tell them to go, and do what we tell them to do.
It is therefore our duty to understand before we act, to know the world, to comprehend, to inform ourselves, to take the responsibility seriously and in hand so we do nothing that will compromise their honor in our eyes.
Their honor stands when we get it wrong. We must remember this and behave accordingly.
It’s Memorial Day. Remember them. Remember their sacrifice. And never, ever blame them for our mistakes.